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"Joy to the World!"

11/25/2020 12:03:41 PM


Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Vayishlach, we find the following: “And Ya’akov remained by himself, and a man wrestled with him until the rising of the dawn.  And he (i.e.- the man) saw that he could not prevail against him (i.e.- Ya’akov), and he (i.e.- the man) touched the “chof” (“socket”) of his (i.e.- Ya’akov’s) thigh and it was dislocated --- the “chof” of the thigh of Ya’akov --- when he had wrestled with him.” (Braysheet 32:25-26) It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word “chof” can also be translated to mean “palm” as in the palm of one’s hand. With this in mind, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov states: “When --- Heaven forbid --- severe judgements hover over Israel, dancing and the clapping of hands mitigate them.”  What Rebbe Nachman is saying is that dancing and hand clapping are the People Israel’s best defense against any evil decrees that are levied against it.  Perhaps the following parable will help with an understanding as to how Ya’akov was doing exactly what Rebbe Nachman was advising:

            Baron Rustikov was a ruthless tyrant who terrorized the poor Jews of Tockavitz, a village he entirely owned even to the last house.  He milked the Jewish villagers dry with the heavy taxes he placed upon them.  When they could not pay, he mercilessly imprisoned them in a damp and foreboding underground cellar that had no food, no water, and not a ray of sunlight.  No one could resist the evil Baron, for he had a private army of heartless Cossacks who were more than happy to shed the innocent blood of a Jew at the slightest pretext.  It is because of this that the Jews of Tockavitz were at a complete loss.  Their fervent cries to Heaven did not seem to help at all, that is until a Gypsy organ grinder passed through the village.

              The organ grinder had a small but precocious monkey that would not sit still for a moment.  When the Gypsy would play a merry tune on his hand organ, his monkey would dance and dance and dance.  When the two-minute or so tune was over, the monkey pranced among the spectators with a tin cup in its hand.  If a person refused to place a coin the cup, the monkey would scamper up the victim’s back and begin to dance on his head.  It would not take too long of a time before the unfortunate person would part with whatever change he had in his pocket by placing it in the cup.  One night, the Gypsy tried to steal a horse from the village blacksmith, Yudke, a big and brawny man.  Yudke and a group of his friends with pitchforks in hand chased the hapless Gypsy for a mile down the road while the terrified thief ran for his life.  The Gypsy abandoned everything he had including the hand organ and the monkey.

            Simcha Zissel, the village jester who possessed a wit as sharp as a razor, seized both the monkey and the hand organ recognizing a golden opportunity from Heaven.  He became the Ukraine’s first Jewish organ grinder.  “Now let the Baron send his nasty henchmen!” bantered Simcha Zissel between Mincha and Ma’ariv with everyone at the shtiebel gathered around him and his monkey.  “They are in for a big surprise.”

            The villagers posted sentries in all four directions leading to and from the village.  Whenever the Baron’s debt collectors would head in the direction of Tockavitz, the sentries would alert Simcha Zissel who was always ready for both action and a good laugh, especially at the expense of the Baron’s perpetually semi-inebriated Cossacks.  Simcha Zissel would play a ditty on his hand organ, and the monkey would begin to dance.  The amused debt collectors, listening to their favorite tunes, would remember that they were thirsty.  This time, the monkey’s cup was filled with vodka which Simcha Zissel poured for the Baron’s brutes.  Before long, they would forget about their boss and their assigned task as debt collectors, and they would turn their drunken wrath on each other rather than on the poor Jewish villagers of Tockavitz.  After a period of time during which three or four groups of the Baron’s Cossacks fell prey to Simcha Zissel and his monkey, the Baron decided that he could do quite well without the back taxes of the poor Jews of Tockavitz.

          Rebbe Natan of Breslov elaborated on Rebbe Nachman’s teaching: “Dancing and clapping can mitigate the harshest oppression.  Rebbe Nachman urged us to take his lesson at face value by making an effort to be merry on our joyous holidays such as Purim and Chanukah…We can make ourselves so elated that we actually dance and clap our hands in joy.  This is what abates the harshness of the evil decrees levied against us.”  We see by way of the passage cited from this week’s parashah that “the man” whom our tradition identifies as Esau’s angel (the Evil Inclination) who strikes the “palm” (“chof”) of Ya’akov’s thigh was making an attempt to neutralize the Jew’s clapping (using one’s palms of both hands) and dancing (using one’s thighs).  Why did Esau’s angel try to do this?  Because he realized that when Jews sing and dance and clap our hands, we repel sadness and depression --- the two strongest weapons that the “Yetzer Hara” (the Evil Inclination) uses against us in order to cause a separation between us and HaShem.

My Rabbi, Rabbi Jay Karzen, has always spoken of “Joyous Judaism.”  Not only does he speak of it, he practices it.  And it is the practice of “Joyous Judaism” that is the best defense against the vagaries of this world that would mean to harm us by separating us from HaShem.    


Sun, March 7 2021 23 Adar 5781